Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Fine Line Between Memory and Lore

This yahrzeit candle is for Tante Laura, who died when I was only seven (yes, 47 years ago). Nonetheless, I have many sweet memories -- although some are more lore than memory.
  1. Tante Laura and my grandmother and their brother, Uncle Max, came to this country from Vienna in the early 1920s, and worked in the garment industry, saving to bring their parents here as well.
  2. When my mom was a little girl in the Bronx, Tante Laura and Uncle Max – neither of whom ever married – rented an apartment from the Provenzanos that was right next door to Provenzano Lanza Funeral Home on Second Avenue between Second and Third streets. Directly across the street was the Church of the Nativity, and on Saturdays in the spring, my mother would watch from Tante Laura’s window as the wedding parties assembled on the steps of the church for photographs. She always described the bride and groom in the middle, flanked by taffeta-clad bridesmaids – two in blue, two in yellow, two in pink, two in green, and so on. Oh, how those young women must have captured her imagination. To this day, whenever I ride the bus down Second Avenue, I take a long glance at those windows, wondering at that early 1940s scene.
  3. When my cousin, Ted, was in college, he told his mom about a kid in his fraternity – Joe Cernigliaro – who had some connection to the Provenzano Lanza Funeral Home. Don’t ask me why or how the two guys figured this out, but on a whim, my Aunt Claire told Ted to ask Joe if his mother’s name is Adrienne. Sure enough, that’s his mom. I’m not sure if she knew my mom and Aunt Claire when Tante Laura and Uncle Max were her family’s tenants, but it’s a small world nonetheless.
  4. To say that Tante Laura was generous would be an understatement. When she made sandwiches, my mom would ask her to make hers with just one slice of bread. She did, of course, but she used the biggest, thickest one from right in the middle of the rye bread! Years later, when my parents were married and living with two young kids a few hours from New York, my mom always found a $10 bill tucked in the pocket of her coat or purse upon returning from a visit.
  5. When I was born (or maybe it was Amy?), Tante Laura made a dress from Swiss dot fabric (the dots were red) that still hangs in the closet in what had been my sister’s room at 12 Webster Road.
  6. In my mind’s eye, Tante Laura was always zaftig (and I am convinced I got those genes). She wore combs in her hair and black orthopedic shoes on her feet. To me, she resembled Golda Meir, which accounts, I think, for my fondness for the zaftig Israeli politician with the black orthopedic shoes.
  7. This memory isn’t necessarily sweet and it’s not even a memory because I didn’t learn about it, let alone understand what it meant, until long after it happened. When Tante Laura died in 1970, the gravediggers were on strike in New York and my parents traveled hastily from Maryland to New York for her funeral, returning there for her burial when the strike ended three months later. To this day, I think about this sad circumstance – and Tante Laura – whenever the gravediggers lower a casket into the ground before the rest of us cover it with shovels full of dirt. 
Rest in peace, Tante Laura, now and always.